Florida rallies to reach SEC Tournament final
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 3:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the second time in two weeks, Florida was in a precarious position against Alabama.
What: SEC Tournament final
Who: No. 13 Florida Gators (26-6) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (25-8)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
Gainesville-area TV: ABC
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
Down 10 early in the second half Saturday, the teetering Gators appeared headed for a second straight semifinal exit in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
But Florida managed to get a few stops. And slumping senior guard Kenny Boynton finally heated up.
Boynton scored all of his team-high 16 points in the second half, carrying the No. 13 Gators to a 61-51 win over Alabama in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The win advanced Florida to the tourney final for the sixth time in 17 seasons under coach Billy Donovan.
Donovan was proud of the resiliency the Gators showed in the second-half comeback.
“There is nothing easy about getting here, and as a group or as individuals, you have to accept, embrace and really be driven by that challenge,” Donovan said.
The Gators (26-6) will try for their first SEC Tournament title since 2007 against Ole Miss (25-8), which beat Vanderbilt 64-52 in the second semifinal game.
“To have a chance to play for another championship, it feels great,” said Florida junior center Patric Young, who also stepped up with 13 points and nine rebounds. “We know it's going to be a 40-minute game, and we're going to do what it takes to bring that trophy home.”
Florida also could join the 2007 Gators as the second team in school history to win both the SEC regular-season championship and SEC Tournament championship.
Playing for a championship didn't look promising when Trevor Releford made a pair of free throws to put Alabama (21-12) up 37-27 with 16:05 left. But Florida showed the same toughness it showed in rallying from down eight points to beat Alabama on March 2 in Gainesville.
Florida responded with a 15-0 run, which began with a pair of free throws from Will Yeguete and continued with 11 straight points from Boynton. For the much maligned former McDonald's All-American, it was a big breakout. Boynton's first 3-pointer in two SEC Tournament games cut Alabama's lead to 37-36 with 13:45 left, and he followed it up with a driving layup in transition with 13:07 left to give the Gators a 38-37 lead.
Back-to-back baskets from Boynton and Young extended UF's lead to 42-37 with 11:14 left. From there, Florida made all the effort plays to close out the game. The Gators out-rebounded Alabama 18-12 in the second half, which included big putback baskets from Young and Casey Prather. Florida outscored Alabama 12-8 in second-chance points.
“We didn't want to go into the locker room knowing we played that hard only to come away with a loss,” said Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who finished with four points, four assists and three steals. “We had felt that before in close games, and it hurts. We don't want to go through that again.”
Young was particularly active on the boards. His nine rebounds were the most since grabbing 11 rebounds against Kentucky on Feb. 12
“I was just really locked in,” Young said. “Just trying to really work hard, get good positioning. I felt like I could have even had a few more.”
In a battle between the SEC's top two defenses, Florida struggled to score early. The Gators tried to establish Young inside, but he missed his first two shot attempts from close range. Yeguete and Erik Murphy also failed to convert on shots in and around the basket. Florida also missed its first six 3-point attempts and finished the first half 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.
“I thought our team got deflated in the first half,” Donovan said. “And not that they were frustrated with each other, frustrated with missing layups. Patric Young misses a couple of layups, I can see it in his face. He feels like he's letting the entire world down. But you've got to stay with the struggle.”
Alabama, meanwhile, rode the inside-out combination of Nick Jacobs and Trevor Lacey to a 28-25 halftime lead. Jacobs scored nine of his 11 points in the first half, while Lacey's eight first-half points included a couple of deep 3-pointers with a hand in his face. Alabama finished the first half shooting 55 percent from the floor (11 of 20) and 60 percent from 3-point range (3 of 5).
“I kinda thought maybe they had a box of Lucky Charms behind the bench or something,” Young said. “They were hitting so many crazy shots. But we knew as long as we worked hard on the defensive end it would start to level out.”
To start the second half, Florida fell behind 37-27. But as momentum started to shift, Alabama players admitted they felt the same sinking feeling they did in letting an eight-point lead slip away in Gainesville. The loss dropped Alabama coach Anthony Grant to 0-6 against his mentor. Grant worked 12 seasons as an assistant under Donovan at Marshall and Florida.
“Me and Andrew (Steele), we were talking about it on the bench,” Lacey said. “When we went up 10, we were talking about we need to keep what we were doing, keep it on them, keep attacking them and just try to make plays.”
But it was the Gators who made the plays in crunch time.
“Our guys tried to fight everywhere,” Donovan said.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.1 ppg, 5.0 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg
OLE MISS PROBABLE STARTERS
G Marshall Henderson 6-2 Jr. 20.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Derrick Millinghaus 5-10 Fr. 5.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg
F Terry Brutus 6-6 Fr. 1.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg
F Reginald Buckner 6-9 Sr. 9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg
C Murphy Holloway 6-7 Sr. 14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg
Notes: Florida will be going for its fourth SEC Tournament title in school history. The Gators have won previous SEC Tournaments in 2005, 2006, 2007. … The Gators rank first in the SEC and third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.3 points per game. The Gators have held 12 opponents under 50 points and 23 opponents under 60 points. … Offensively, Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton broke out of a recent slump with a team-high 16 points against Alabama. Patric Young (13 points) and Mike Rosario (10 points) also reached double figures against the Crimson Tide. … Ole Miss starting point guard Jarvis Summers is questionable for the game with a concussion. If Summers is out, look for Ole Miss to turn to sophomore guard LaDarius White for help off the bench. White is averaging 6.6 points with 37 assists. …. Florida beat Ole Miss 78-64 in the only previous meeting between the two schools Feb. 2 at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville.